Guiding Light


Pamela York Klainer

Loretta was at least ten years younger than Regina’s mother, which felt like a bit of a role reversal as Loretta sat calm and in charge while the older woman wept.

“I feel as if my whole life is falling apart. Six months ago my husband and I were talking about celebrating our anniversary, and both Regina and her brother were doing fine. Now my husband is living with a bimbo, and my daughter is probably pregnant. I should have never let her go with that boy. I knew he was too old.”

“Have you told Regina’s father?”

Regina’s mother stopped crying, and her face grew hard and her voice defensive. “No. If Regina is pregnant no one is going to know. It will ruin her life. My sister is a social worker. She told me if Regina says she’ll kill herself if she has to carry this baby, a judge will approve an abortion. Because Regina’s life would be in danger. That’s what my sister said.”

Loretta and Regina’s mother were sitting in low chairs at one end of Loretta’s office, with soft lighting between them and a small table which held two cups of tea. There was a third chair, for Regina, who was coming after class.

Loretta worked hard to make her voice non-judgmental. “Is that what Regina wants? It isn’t what she would have learned here at our high school. She’s been taught that abortion is wrong. And it is illegal, except in a very few cases.”

Regina’s mother was brusque. “Regine is too young to know what she wants. Who do you think would raise this baby if she has it, her? She’s fourteen years old. I’m not working now but I might have to go back to work, and then what would we do with a baby? I don’t care what Regina wants, and I don’t care what the Church says. I’m her mother, and she’ll say whatever I tell her to say to put an end to this.”

Loretta sat silently, and reached for her tea. She wanted this discussion to be a success, to vindicate Regina’s impulse to come to her for help. Loretta wanted to guide Regina and her family through this process on her own, without calling on the more experienced Father Leon for help. She wanted the right outcome, even if she was unsure herself what the right outcome might be.

Somehow Katie’s situation felt unfinished. Loretta wanted some sign that Katie cared about the baby inside her even if she went ahead with the abortion, and Katie never had. Father Leon didn’t talk much about the life of the baby either, just that Katie had to discern God’s will. Loretta wanted someone to feel sad. But everyone seemed to have moved on, treating the miscarriage as a stroke of good luck that ended a terrible dilemma abruptly and for the best.

Loretta wanted Regina’s mother to acknowledge there was another life to be considered. All Loretta sensed thus far was anger, and fear, and even despair. She thought about the words she’d heard all her life growing up Catholic, and more since entering the convent. God is always with us.

Katie hadn’t sounded as if she thought God was with her. Regina’s mother didn’t either.

Loretta looked up at the cross hanging on her office wall. There was a cross in every classroom, in the principal’s office, in the auditorium. There was even a cross in the gym. God is everywhere.

What did it mean to grow up with Jesus on the cross if belief so easily gives way to practicality?

Loretta felt a chill. Then she had a sudden, wild fantasy. She’d find someone to adopt the baby, and then everything would be all right.

A timid knock on the office door brought Loretta back to her senses. Nervously, Regina entered the room and sat down. One of her white socks was bunched around her ankle, the elastic gone. Her book bag was scuffed, and her uniform shirt wrinkled. She looked disheveled, and Loretta thought it would be a miracle if none of the Sisters monitoring the halls wrote out a demerit at some point during the day. The young ladies at this high school were expected to look neat at all times, as a sign of respect for Our Lady.

The tense silence brought Loretta out of her reverie. Here she was swinging from crazy thoughts about getting the baby adopted to worrying about something as insignificant as demerits. Loretta willed herself to focus, and looked directly at Regina.

“Your mother tells me you don’t have the results yet from your pregnancy test. Does Dermott know you might be pregnant?”

Regina looked at her mother with alarm. “No, Sister. My mother told me not to tell anyone, and I didn’t.”

Loretta took a deep breath. “Regina, if you are pregnant, what do you want to do? That’s important, isn’t it, to think what you want to do? And what God wants you to do?”

Regina’s mother exhaled hard, and Regina turned to look at her but Loretta did not. She continued to press.

“If you are pregnant, God has created a life inside you. Can you think about what that might mean?”

Regina’s face crumpled, as if she were about to cry. Her mother, no longer able to contain herself, broke in.

“Regina, we talked about this. Your Aunt Maureen said that all you have to do is tell a judge you’re too young and having this baby would make you want to kill yourself, and you can have a little operation and it will all be over and you can come back to school and go on with your life. That’s what you’re going to do.”

Regina nodded at her mother, tears beginning to fall. Then she turned back to Sister Loretta. “I don’t want to have a baby. That feels crazy. Grown-ups have babies. But I wouldn’t want to kill myself. That’s not true. My mother wants me to say something that isn’t true.”

Regina’s mother put down her tea, the cup clattering against the saucer, and stood up. “Regina, we’re going. You and I need to talk.”

She turned to Sister Loretta. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing. I came here today because I thought you were going to help us, and you’re only making what has to happen worse.”

Loretta stood as well, her hand reaching out to Regina’s mother who was looking away and busily pulling on her coat. “Please don’t go. I will try to help you. I just want us to consider everything in deciding what’s best. We have to listen to what Regina wants, and how she feels. And we also have to listen to what God might be telling us.”

Regina’s mother kept a stony silence, grabbed her daughter’s arm and left. Loretta sat back down, consumed with a sense of failure. If Father Leon were here she knew the conversation would have gone differently. Now Regina’s mother was angry, and untrustful. She might never come back.

But Regina would. Loretta was sure of that.


4 thoughts on “Guiding Light

  1. The dialogue is intriguing and I like being inside Loretta’s head as she flits from one idea to the next. Well done!

  2. for Nedra: I think I’m getting better at dialogue. A question: you have two grown daughters. With whom are you identifying in the Regina situation … Loretta? The mother? The young girl?

  3. Oh definitely Loretta. I like her approach with the child and one that I would probably mirror. I recall talking with my girls when they were pre-teens and wanting them to understand that although I might not agree with their decisions, I respected their feelings and that the door was always open. They still do openly discuss things with me, I think because they know I make a conscious effort not to judge. I think that’s important.

  4. for Nedra: I did that with my kids too … including saying that if they were ever out and there was a problem with drinking and driving they could call us rather than put themselves in danger and there would be no questions or repercussions. One night when they came home late from a party there were three sets of feet coming up the stairs, and when I called out from our bedroom Matt said “Mom, we have it under control.” The next morning the person, who’d been drunk and my kids had taken her car keys rather than let her drive, was gone. I never knew who it was. They reminded me I’d said I wouldn’t ask, and I didn’t.

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